Eddie Feltes— 7 May 2008 — in California Condor Restoration ShareApril 2008 has had our crew on their toes and ready for anything. This eager and willing attitude stems from the behavior of the wild birds and the excitement of what may lie ahead as we manage an ever increasing and an always intriguing population of condors. In the past month we have trapped and tagged for the first time our two wild-fledged birds, trapped almost our whole population for blood lead testing and transmitter changes in just two weeks, tracked and recovered a condor with a severe wing injury, and monitored four (but most likely five) active nests across the condors expansive range here in Northern Arizona. To say it has been a busy month is an understatement, but this kind of busy is what our crew lives for!
On 20-21 April we were able to do just that. We started by catching young Condor 441 first. This young condor fledged from a very isolated cave in a secluded canyon west of the Kaibab Plateau in the Grand Canyon, went six months undetected by our crew, and then became routinely visible again as the bird grew independent from the parent condors, female Condor 210 and male Condor 134, and began traveling and foraging with other birds in the population. This early independence is not very common, but has happened, as the adults usually tend to the young bird for another year after fledging at the age of six months. And as uncharacteristic as it may be—both wild-fledglings exhibited this behavior at the same time this year.
The other young bird, Condor 459, has been observed still feeding from male Condor 114, but has also been feeding independently more often at our release site with a large number of free-flying birds. So both birds were trapped, and after a field test of lead concentration in the blood came back at a releasable level, both birds were released immediately and have been doing great since. Condor 441 has even been documented traveling up to Southwestern Utah with a handful of other condors in the Kolob region, and returning back to the release site.
As a standard practice in our management of the flock, we always like to wait several weeks after releasing new birds, to allow them to gain confidence in feeding at the proffered carcasses that we put out and allow the birds to get comfortable roosting in safe locations in the cliffs before we do any trapping that may potentially break them of these desired habits. So once the four birds that were released 15 March settled in to this routine, we decided it to be a good time to carry out our bi-annual trapping of the entire free-flying population for transmitter placement and blood lead testing.
During our routine trapping, we noticed a break in the pattern of a few birds that were ranging to an uncommon location day after day, and returning with a visible crop full of food. Knowing the location and the unlikelihood of there being any natural carcasses of ungulates in the area, we put these birds on high alert and scoured the area they were covering with the feeling that something out of the ordinary was going on.
Another odd change in behavior was red-flagged by the mindful observation of crewmember Shaun Putz on 26 April. With a regular group of birds routinely ranging between the release site in the Vermilion Cliffs to Navajo Bridge in the Colorado River corridor, Shaun noticed one bird lagging behind as the other birds vacated the area. This was odd behavior for male Condor 250, because his dominance and leadership amongst this group had been regularly observed in the weeks prior.
Upon looking over the pictures that Shaun took, we decided that the bird appeared to be injured and was helplessly backed into the cave, unable to fly with his right wing hanging. So early the next morning Shaun and I headed back downriver with Park Rangers to try and net the bird for closer diagnosis of the situation. We were able to do so, and examine the bird in our treatment facility on site. Once we took a radiograph of the injured wing, we were able to see a dislocation in the carpal joint in the condor’s wing and immediately fly the bird, with assistance from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, to the Phoenix Zoo where an experienced staff is currently treating the injured condor.
During this close monitoring, we also have reason to believe that a third egg is currently being incubated by an unsuspected pair also deep in the Grand Canyon, that of female Condor 234 and female Condor 280! Both birds have been observed displaying to each other, and are now making regular nest switches that always leave one bird sedentary for a few days until the other bird returns, and then the pattern switches- indicating the switching of egg incubation duties. Suspicions of this behavior have been further solidified by placing a very reliable GPS transmitter on female Condor 280 that gives a fixed GPS location of the bird’s travels every hour of daylight. And with this particular unit functioning very reliably (like clock-work), I thought it to be odd that once the bird traveled to the possible nesting location and switched out Condor 234, the unit stopped transmitting—indicating being inside a cave location identical to the behavior of the other breeding condors that are wearing GPS transmitters. With a handful of available, breeding-aged male condors in the area, a situation like this is always possible, unlikely, but as we are seeing, definitely possible. At the time of writing we have a crewmember backpacking down in the canyon, searching for a cave location, to confirm our suspicions of this odd pair.
Back near the release site in the Vermilion Cliffs, the breeding pair of Condors 195 and 158 have been incubating strongly, and are due to hatch on 10 May, and the nest failure of experienced pair Condors 126 and 114 that was thwarted by the breaking of their egg, has been re-established as the pair has recycled and laid again, starting incubation on 22 April.
Check back with next month’s NFTF to get updates on the hopeful returns of our treated condors, as well as all the other happenings of this dynamic species recovery. Until next time. . .
Our Conservation Projects
Species we work with
Where we work
|Unknown column 'Hits' in 'field list'|